Last modified: 2002-09-28 by rick wyatt
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by Rick Wyatt, 6 September 1998
The famed "Grand Union" flag hoisted at Washington's headquarters at Cambridge on 2 January 1776 turned out to be exactly the same as the flag that the East India Company had used ... on the other side of the world ... since 1701. The design is essentially a red ensign (minus, of course, the X of St. Patrick at that time) with the red field divided into 13 red-and-white stripes: the same pattern as the later U.S. flag, once the canton changed to "a new constellation."
William E. Dunning, 16 March 1998
There isn't any confirming documentary evidence that the East India Company flag influenced the design of the Continental Colors in any material way. Probably some sea captains were familiar with the EIC Flag but its design was probably not of maritime origin. The best we can tell is that Washington or one of his staff came up with the design to show colonial allegience to the crown (symbolized by the Union Jack) while maintaining the rights of the United Colonies in Congress Assembled (symbolized by the stripes).
There was no significance in the East India Company's flag having 13 stripes. If you examine the EIC records carefully, their flag was striped red and white bearing the UJ in the canton. Examples exist of the number of stripes varying from nine to 15. The evidence also suggests that 13 was not a common number of the stripes on the flag. The 9 striped version appears to be the most common and it is thought by some (but there is no contemporary evidence for this) that that number is in reply to the 9 striped dutch flag (R-W-B-R-W-B-R-W-B) commonly seen in the East Indies at the time. Also, the EIC Flag sometimes bore the St. George Cross on a white canton rather than the UJ.
Dave Martucci, 16 March 1998